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Lesbian, gay & bisexual employees twice as likely to experience bullying and discrimination at work

  • One in three lesbians and bisexuals experience workplace bullying
  • Bullying behaviour is more likely to stem from senior staff
  • A quarter of those who experience discrimination ‘do nothing’ about it
  • Employers should look to establish clear boundaries and challenge discrimination among their workforce

A national study into workplace experiences of lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) employees by Manchester Business School and Plymouth University has found that LGBs are more than twice as likely to experience bullying in the workplace as their heterosexual counterparts.

One in 10 LGBs reported being subjected to discrimination in the last 12 months, as opposed to one in 20 heterosexuals.

The report draws upon over 1,200 face-to-face interviews and is being unveiled at a workshop and panel discussion hosted by Bank of America Merrill Lynch today.

Within the LGB group, lesbian and bisexual women report even higher levels of exposure to negative behaviour at their place of work than gay or bisexual men. This is particularly clear when it comes to the frequency of bullying; a third of bisexuals and lesbians who say they are bullied reported that they experience this on a weekly or daily basis.

Overwhelmingly, the main perpetrators of bullying and discrimination in the workplace were found among managers. 44 per cent of respondents identified someone senior to them as the culprit. By contrast, only 3 per cent stated they had been bullied by a subordinate.

Despite 85 per cent of respondents feeling confident with respect to exercising their rights in instances of discrimination, almost one in four who had experienced bullying ‘did nothing’ about it. Startlingly, of those who did lodge a formal complaint with their employers, only one in three said that a formal investigation took place.

Helge Hoel, Professor in Organisational Behaviour at MBS, said: “Our study establishes beyond doubt that bullying and discrimination is a common experience for many lesbian, gay and bisexual employees, with LGBs being exposed to intrusive and sexualised behaviour far more frequently than their heterosexual colleagues, as well being as being at risk of social exclusion at work.

“Lesbians and bisexual women are particularly negatively affected. Whilst negative stereotypes and stereotyping of lesbians and gay men play a key role in many bullying scenarios, they are often denied and are rarely confronted openly in the debate about bullying and homophobia, possibly because apparently many LGBs themselves subscribe to such stereotypes.

“The most surprising finding is that so many people, colleagues and managers alike, believe it is up to LGBs themselves to put a stop to such unwanted behaviours and set the necessary boundaries, instead of intervening directly when confronted with examples of behaviours that are socially unacceptable.

“These findings have a number of clear implications for employers and managers, who need to act if progress is to be made on the problems we’ve identified.”

Professor Duncan Lewis, from the Graduate School of Management at Plymouth University, added: “The findings of our study are truly shocking, and suggest that although progress has been made in British workplaces regarding equality and sexuality, much more work needs to be done.

“This research has been the most challenging work I have ever undertaken, and the challenges of obtaining interviewees prepared to talk to us about, not only sensitive issues such as discrimination and bullying, but also about their sexuality, was a monumental task.”

The project was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ERSC).